Last night Angela and I sat in the audience at Journey Church and watched our youngest daughter Austen walk across the stage and receive her high school graduation diploma from Atlantic Christian Academy. As she walked up to receive her graduating credentials and her gift Bible, a slide show depicted pictures of her from years past. It was a special moment to watch the little girl born in Topeka, Kansas on November 24, 1996 reach a blessed point in her life, and begin a new chapter. In just a flash of time, Angela and I recalled all those moments that led to this moment.
There before a gathering of family and friends, Austen — just as Aubrey three weeks ago — has taken another step in being a part of the American Dream.
After the graduation, we went out for the celebratory dinner. Angela had selected a beautiful Italian restaurant in Lake Worth, Ristorante Rustico Italiano. We entered, all twenty of us, and were personally welcomed by the owner Nino Annuziata. The restaurant reminded me of my first duty assignment in Vicenza, Italy and the small quaint family-run establishments that I loved to frequent. Nino recognized me and I explained to him the occasion, and he took excellent care of our party. The food, well, was just exquisite, la bella cucina. Yep, I got to reminisce and speak Italian with Nino – although I’m a little rusty since 1987.
As we had finished our meal and were awaiting dessert, I had a chance to speak with Nino and learn his story.
Nino had come to America with only $8,000, but he’d heard of a land where dreams can come true. He’d been told of a place where one is rewarded for having an individual indomitable spirit and determination. He’d sought out that beacon of economic liberty and freedom that empowers one to see the results of his or her own investment, ingenuity, and innovation — the essence of entrepreneurship ad exceptionalism. Nino set his feet upon the shores of a country like none other: America.
So with a burning desire in his heart, Nino purchased a building that was once a sandwich shop and transformed it into a beautiful Italian restaurant where he is owner and chef. Nino had found the American dream.
However, we spoke about his challenges as a small business owner and how it seems that this land of promise and dreams is becoming a place of nightmares. He pondered why it is that he could come to America with only $8,000 and find such success while now it seems the “new normal” is to sit back and wait for government largesse or the false promises — such as $15 minimum wage, which Nino articulated will have severe and adverse effects on his business and his employees. His options will be to shift the incurred costs to the customer, reduce employee hours, or sadly shut down.
And for those of you who don’t know about South Florida, it gets quiet in the summer, and between May to November many of Nino’s patrons travel back north.
It was a great evening because I watched Austen take a very important step in being able to participate in the American dream. Aubrey watched her sister walk across the graduation stage. Angela and I sat in the audience realizing that we are part of only 25 percent of the black community with two parents in the home. And we ate dinner and shared an evening with someone who is the embodiment of the American dream, Nino Annuziata.
It was indeed a great night, one that made me remember why I’m proud to be an American. And if y’all are in South Florida near Lake Worth, drop by and tell Nino howdy — and eat some good chow!